Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Everton down City as title race hots up

Darron Gibson did his old club a favour by giving Everton a 1-0 win at home to Manchester City, blowing the Premier League title race wide open again by inflicting City's third league defeat of the season.
On the hour mark Irish midfielder Gibson, who joined the Toffees from Manchester Unitedearlier this month, struck a trademark long shot that took a deflection off Gareth Barry before flying past Joe Hart.
City had chances of their own and pushed for a late equaliser but they were again below par, with United moving level on points after they beat Stoke City 2-0.
After their third defeat at Goodison in a row, Roberto Mancini’s side are still seven goals ahead of United but, with Mario Balotelli suspended and Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero toiling somewhat, they lack their previous verve and could be in for a hectic time over the next 15 matches.
Aside from the result there was a major talking point: a bizarre on-pitch protest in the first half by a middle-aged man assumed to be a disgruntled Everton supporter, who ran on to the pitch and appeared to handcuff himself to Joe Hart’s goal.
But it ultimately did not detract from a great win for Everton, who unveiled new striker Nikica Jelavic at half-time after he completed his big-money move from Rangers.
The aforementioned incident took police and stewards around four minutes to remove the miscreant supporter in one of the strangest incidents in pitch-invader history, managing to be amusing, sad and worrying all at once.
In the meantime, what had been an entertaining half of football - in which Everton gave as good as they got - lost its fizz, the momentum disrupted and players clearly rattled, not to mention chilled after being made to stand in freezing conditions for a period.
Everton had the first opportunity of the match when, on five minutes, former Toffees defender Joleon Lescott  was on hand to head all-action Argentine forward Denis Stracqualursi’s goal-bound header off the line, Hart well beaten.
Seconds later Tim Howard was called into action to bat out James Milner’s low drive, while Aguero drilled a shot wide after a mazy dribble.
City, however, were not at their best and they were looking frustrated by Everton’s all-action approach: on his return from a four-match ban, Vincent Kompany was lucky to escape with a booking when he left with the arm on Stracqualursi.
In the minutes leading up to ‘the incident’, both sides had good chances: Marouane Fellaini volleyed just wide after a super flick-on by Stracqualursi, while Samir Nasri hit the angle of post and bar with a swerving long-range shot.
After the incident there was an extended lull but, 15 minutes into the second half, the game sparked back into life when Fellaini put in a risky but clean slide tackle on Aguero after he had wriggled clear in the box.
Everton countered through the buzzing Royston Drenthe, who found Leighton Baines out wide: a typical cross from the England left-back found its way to Landon Donovan, who showed his intelligence to forego the shot and lay the ball up for Gibson, whose long-range shooting is his main attribute and who did not disappoint with a vicious drive off Barry’s shin.
That was the cue for City to throw everything forward, bringing wide players Adam Johnson and Aleksandar Kolarov into play as they looked to force the issue.
But with Aguero drifting out of the game and Dzeko looking clumsy - most of his interventions were hold-up headers and wayward shots well off target - there was a lack of a cutting edge, not to mention a disappointing showing from David Silva, who barely had an impact.
Everton, meanwhile, looked tasty on the break, with Gibson putting a couple of distance volleys wide as, with news filtering back to Old Trafford, United fans chanted "Fergie, sign him up" about their former player.
The latter stages saw City pile the pressure on but Tim Howard barely made a save, John Heitinga, Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville imperious at the back, with Tim Cahill and Donovan showing great intelligence to slow down the play when they did get the ball.
There was a half-shout for a penalty as Neville appeared to handle a Kolarov cross, but his arms were by his side and it was very much ball-to-hand.
Everton held on fairly comfortably in the end as City became more aimless with their attempts to find a breakthrough, the victory deserved in the end and one that cements the Toffees in mid-table.

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